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Kurt Swanson, Likuma Labs, inspecting Noria prototype

It’s fun to cheer on friends who are doing great work. Kurt Swanson, a buddy of mine and fellow long-time member at NextFab, has been working his butt off for the last several years to bring a number of products to market. Usually he designs products for clients, but his most recent announcement is a bit more personal. Kurt’s product development firm, Likuma Labs, is a resident company at NextFab, and they recently kickstarted a new air conditioning unit called Noria.

An overnight success, several years in the making

Kurt and I both joined NextFab (a makerspace in Philadelphia) as members several years ago. I remember seeing his strong engineering skills leading him down a path to discovery. Kurt’s love of engineering was clear as he happily described how he had spent days working on models in mathematica. (I think that I can get the program to add 2+2, but maybe not.) His early product concepts looked impressive – concepts using advanced thermodynamics to cool certain areas and heat others. And his team’s attention to aesthetics were clear even in the earliest days of his little startup.

For the last few years, Kurt and his intrepid team (including Don Pancoe, Kurt Swanson, Sr., Devin Sidell, Linda Shi, and Justin Bain) have been sweating the small stuff while preparing to launch their first product. It is a new take on a very old idea – a traditional in-window air conditioning unit. You know… that bland, awkward-to-install-and-operate product that many renters and some homeowners use to bare the sweltering heat that seems to come more rapidly each and every spring and summer.

Designing and testing a beautiful idea

Like so many ideas, it began several years ago as a concept with promise – this time as a study of thermodynamics in practice. Likuma began to model and test components of the product whenever they had free moments in their busy schedules.

Kurt Swanson working in the NextFab metal shop

Making extensive use of NextFab’s resources, Likuma tested multiple components and assembled various looks-like and works-like models. Alex Numann, Director of CAD/CAM/CAE at NextFab, loves describing how Likuma designed and 3D printed a custom jig to greatly reduce assembly for an internal piece during testing. The jig cost only about $20 in printing costs, but it probably saved the team days of assembly time. Likuma even used the water-only nozzle for the waterjet cutter to produce impressive results during prototyping.

And Likuma Lab’s practice in simplicity can be seen in the beautiful form that the product has taken. While the product is still an air conditioning unit, it has been reimagined as a light, airy, attractive piece of window art. The team landed on a wonderful interaction – the main dial on the device glows deliciously when turned on or adjusted. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering that makes many wonder “why didn’t the air conditioning industry do this years ago?”

Building momentum

While they were not certain how and when the product would launch, Kurt and his team were very forthcoming with their plans. Any member or visitor who walked by their offices could find large images displaying their plans to launch Noria — some time soon. And they began to use Instagram as a pre-launch method to gauge and build interest for the concept.

Filming the Noria kickstarter video

Early promotions did not stop there. Even their Kickstarter video, made by fellow member Judah Konigsberg, was captured and shared with early Noria supporters.

Timing is key.

When it seemed that warmer weather was finally going to hit the East Coast, Noria was launched via Kickstarter. In the usual fashion, there was no way to be certain what would happen next.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Noria skyrocketed in pre-sales in the first few days, then cooled down a bit after surpassing their initial goal. Now that we’re only a few days away from the end of their campaign, and it has suddenly gotten a lot hotter outside, Noria is really beginning to take off. My prediction, shared with Kurt before launch, was that they’d hit at least $1,000,000. Of course, now I look foolishly conservative in my estimate. But I (and my fellow teammates here at NextFab) am happy to be wrong.

Whatever Noria becomes after the Kickstarter campaign ends, it’s exciting to be able to cheer on the people behind a big idea like this little product. Congrats, to Kurt, Don, Devin, Linda, Kurt Sr., and Justin (and Judah, too) on a job well done!

Noria air conditioning unit in window mount
If you’re curious about other great crowdfunded projects that have emerged from NextFab, check out list of crowdfunded projects at NextFab.

NextFab members have launched some incredibly successful commercial products in the past year or so. If you want to know more, check out NextFab’s incubated companies.

Don’t forget to grab your Noria. Back their project here.